Home » How to Be Sure You Can Write the Highest Quality Books

How to Be Sure You Can Write the Highest Quality Books

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence

The summer heat already bears down now, scorching all inspiration and melting my brain.


We closed up the house, draw the blinds and cover the skylights, digging down to keep as much of the cool air in as we can. And I’ve stayed in front of the air conditioner, even though I live in Oregon and every Oregonian knows it’s cool and rainy so houses don’t need air conditioning here.

Yeah. This perspiration would like to challenge that notion.

The sun makes the garden grow. But it also shrivels the plants unless you water them daily. There’s a difference between warm and hot. And it gets me thinking how there’s a whole world of difference in these small distinctions between things.

It’s in such seemingly minor differences that life takes on its wonderful variety and meaning. Our balance between what’s delightful and what’s suffocating is much more slight than we tend to realize. And yet we all know having our balance thrown off often reminds us how small distinctions can make a huge difference.

In the old days of this blog, about 10 years ago now, I tried to define the idea of “quality.” I was a younger man, recently 30, and I took it upon myself to try to describe this difficult distinction between types of books that were high quality and low quality. I eventually had to concede much of the difference was in the eye of the beholder. And after flogging it a while more, I let the subject drop.


Yet I hadn’t understood the primary distinction between high and low quality–far from a snooty or pretentious ideal, books that are refined have a cultured, time-worn truth and beauty. They may be old or new, but the words themselves are distinctive by the refinement they’ve undergone. Very simple books can be elegant. Even rustic, earthy things can be achingly beautiful and unique.

Doesn’t appreciating distinction involve respecting the refining time and the patience to weather the process?

That’s what “quality” means. Appreciating distinction. A high quality book is set apart and special in specific ways if you look for them and take time to appreciate them. When it’s earned through dedication, sacrifice and training, distinction is the quality such books have. And to those who appreciate it, that difference matters. It’s significant. It’s worth recognizing and remarking about.

How did I get here from talking about the heat? Ah, the difference between warm and hot. When you know there’s a difference, you can’t unlearn it. We can’t go back to not noticing. And what’s fascinating to me about this is that this appreciation is a possession that can’t be taken away. Knowing a distinction between things is a special kind of possession that sets you apart. It makes you special. If no one else could feel the difference between a few degrees, when it got too hot, the person who could tell would be very special.


It’s the same with books. When you can start to tell the little differences between high and low quality, you’re the owner of a unique, specific blessing. Your awareness may make your delicate balance more fragile and precarious, but you’re also now able to employ that unique insight to improve others. And with greater wisdom, you’ll weather the challenges it brings more easily too.

I guess as the sun is going down now and I’m thinking about days of running through sprinklers and enjoying summer with my girls before they’re grown, I believe this distinctiveness is what my writing craft needs. And it’s obvious God is in the business of blessing those who weather their time well. He invests in those who invest.

So I’d like to do so wisely, carefully, persistently, keeping my eyes open and my senses sharp for the new distinctions that will grow my ability to appreciate this amazing life….

And here’s an exciting question: What previously minor distinctions are waiting for us to discover them and broaden our awareness and writing craft this week? 

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge


8 Responses to “How to Be Sure You Can Write the Highest Quality Books”

  1. suzee says:

    this persistence bit by mr. coolidge is good news! i can’t wait to tell steve that mick brought it to my attention. he respects you and in light of the fact that my persistence drives him crazy, i can say “SEE!”

    i know it helped me write a book. maybe the thesaurus might bring up the word ‘nagging’….well, there is that. (i guess. not completely sold, though)

    you find the best quotes. finding great quotes takes time. a happy diversion? heh heh, i am teasing you, OB.

    suzee B

    • Mick says:

      Isn’t that quote a stunner? I do love me a good quote.

    • Mick says:

      Also, as Somerset Maugham said, “The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.”

  2. All right! Really! We all know that, for whatever reason, some people can not, or won’t take the time & energy to express themselves beyond the most superficial levels; some people can’t see the difference between grey and deep, murky, rotting green, some people say “yes!” to every well-phrased and passionate speech, heedless of the fact that they were as passionately persuaded by the exact opposite the day before.
    Writing, being a writer, is a gift, successfully developed IF
    one exercises the persistent energy necessary to accurately discern between shades of meaning, (I say yes to a thesaurus! How else to think through the implications of what one is saying? Ok, thesaurus and understanding of how da guy on da job might put it–a tad of vernacular suffices. Uh, add in the discernment of a writer’s group, perhaps?)
    Coolidge is right, methinks, IF the writer throws in determination to communicate truth, truthfully. For that, I suggest, one needs to know the gold standard of Truth. “The market” produces tons of dogged, well-turned phrases of…rubbish. We can do better.

    Those who look discerningly at shades of grey, to borrow a currently offensive turn of phrase, who learn to taste the acidic, the musky, the aged sweetness in their wine, who cultivate their sensitivities to just how hot, hotter, hottest the day is and practice, persist, persist and practice, will be writers who have set themselves on the course they need to follow.
    I think I just said “yes, and Amen.” Right?

  3. suzee says:

    so mick, am i to deduce that you are a witless procrastinator. hissssss!
    (that was me being a brat-cat hissssing wickedly) XOXOXOXOXO

    • Mick says:

      Your deductions are frighteningly accurate, I’m afraid. I have no defense. But the HS often speaks through unlikely sources…

  4. Chris Malkemes says:

    He invests in those who invest. Perfectly said, my friend. To know God is wonderful. To know what God wants from us and work in that direction is life changing. Blessings ~Chris~

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